Friday, March 6, 2009

Books Are Like Clamps - You Can Never Have Too Many!

A recent post about "Top Ten" woodworking books on the Village Carpenter got me thinking, and digging through my library trying to come up with my list. In the process, I discovered I was a little out of date on my List-O-Books. The official count is now over two hundred books!

They're all good (the "bleh" one's don't make the cut) and trying to come up with a list of just ten was hard! I'm sure I will change this later, but here's what I came up with for now - with a short rational for each:

1. The Woodwright's Eclectic Workshop - Roy Underhill

"How to start with a tree and an axe and make one thing after another until you have a house and everything in it." If I had to pick just one of Roy's books, I think it would be this one. It has everything I love about his writing: deep knowledge, excellent writing, history, culture, humor, and a strong sense of the interconnectedness of everything. But really, ALL his books are "Top Ten" material.

2. Hand Tools: Their Ways and Workings - Aldren Watson

One of the first hand tool woodworking books I read. The information is great (it has a few quirks)and his pencil illustrations are fantastic! For an added bonus, you can have fun trying to find the names, or initials, of the people listed on the acknowledgement page hidden in the illustrations throughout the book.

3. Traditional Woodworking Handtools: An Illustrated Reference Guide For the Woodworker - Graham Blackburn

A fascinating, detailed guide to hand tools and their use. It makes a good companion book to Watson's Hand Tools, especially since it covers moulding planes, something Watson left out.

4. Craftsmen of Necessity - Christopher Williams

A great book focusing on the fading (or vanished, it was published in 1974) connection between man and his environment, with a focus on architecture, agriculture, boat building and various other crafts. It examines the impact of machine technology replacing direct craftsman/environment interaction.

5. The Nature and Art of Workmanship - David Pye

A serious, almost academic in a philosophical way, discussion on, well, art and workmanship. If you are serious about craftsmanship, you need to read this book. It is kind of a highbrow cousin to the more folksy Craftsmen of Necessity.

6. Woodworking with Kids - Richard Starr

Solid hand tool information and truly inspirational photos of kids and their projects. I wish I had access to a teacher like Starr when I was a kid.

7. The Workshop Book: A Craftsman's Guide to Making the Most of Any Work Space - Scott Landis

This is one of those books I keep going back to. I love poring over the photographs of woodworker's shops. I like trying to identify the tools in the background, spot interesting storage ideas, and just trying to learn as much as possible about the craftsman by looking at his space. I always notice something new.

8. A Guide to the Makers of American Wooden Planes 4th edition - Emil and Martyl Pollack and Thomas L. Elliott

If you are interested in old American planes, their makers, and their place in history, then this is the book. It is written more for the collector, than the user, but it's the first place I go when I'm seeking information about the moulding plane I'm about to put back to work.

9. Keeping the Cutting Edge: Setting and Sharpening Hand and Power Saws - Harold H. Payson

The best single source of saw sharpening information I've come across. Too bad he strays into power saws :)

10. How to Work with Tools and Wood: For the Home Workshop - The Author

A solid "How To" hand tool book, mixed with subtle sales pitches, campy illustrations, and a surprising amount of philosophy. For a more complete discussion see my post Your Boy Is Safe When He Is Working With Tools And Wood.


  1. That circular saw sharpener in Harold H.'Dynamite'Payson booklet is "Homemade" by him and his dad back in the day.

  2. Thanks for this list. I am going to read all of them.

  3. Anonymous - He sounds like an amazing person. I bought this book in Maine, then found out later that his workshop was right across the inlet from where we were staying! Shoot!

    David - Enjoy! I'd start with St. Roy's if you haven't read them already - they really can't be beat.


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